I’ve been trying to write a piece on ‘A Serbian Film’ for the best part of a week. There are so many emotions that the film throws-up (literally) that it is almost impossible to tell someone else whether they should or shouldn’t watch it. If you want a simple is it great or is it rubbish hit then I’d give it 4 stars. There you go. Not very helpful was it. I don’t want you coming back saying “Hey! I watched that movie because you told me it was brilliant and you didn’t tell me about the (EDIT) or the (EDIT) or when that guy (EDIT). No I didn’t and I wont. The thing with ‘A Serbian Film’ is that you should go in blind so that as the main character is falling down the rabbit hole, you are right there with him, tumbling and confused, disturbed and fearful. Fearful is probably the best word to describe the atmosphere throughout, there are elements of Paul Schrader here (a writer who has had his fair share of criticism down the years for his presentations of the darker side of life and believe me, this is pitch black, it makes ‘Light Sleeper’ look like ‘Sleeping Beauty’) as well as the slight dreamlike touch of David Lynch. Now these are heavyweight names in the world of films and this is totally justified, we are not dealing with a cheap exploitation movie here, it’s the Heart Of Darkness of the horror genre and by god “The horror, the horror” is damn right.
Whilst the actors are all unknown to Western audiences, these are not unknowns in Serbia, they are top stars, Oscar quality, the main star has been described as Serbia’s Kevin Bacon! He is a brilliant brilliant actor too and it is his performance that keeps the film together, if there was any overacting or clichéd madness exhibited, the whole thing would fall apart within seconds of the madness beginning. It doesn’t. In fact, for the first half of the film, it’s as if you are watching a family drama as we see Milos, formerly the top porn star in the country, now retired and enjoying his perfect life with his wife and child. Well, it’s not exactly perfect as they don’t live in the big house that Milos thinks they deserve and he worries that he’s not providing everything that they deserve. It’s then that his wife starts asking if he misses the world of porn and one of his ex filmstar friends turns up offering him a role he cannot refuse. Of course, even though you have no idea what is about to happen, you will hope he declines, but ironically it is his wife who seems more for it and so he looks further into it, but there’s a rug over the reality he’s about to fall into and there’s no reveal until he has signed the contract.
The point is that his new employer works in specialised areas of the film business, creating the films that his clients want, no subjects taboo, no scenes edited. Because of this, Milos is not shown a script, it seems that they are looking for his genuine reactions to what is happening, not his pre-determined reactions to what is on the page. Instead he receives an earpiece and is told when to walk, when to enter a room, when to fuck, the whole shebang. Yet what he sees and what he is partaking in turns out to be too much for him and he’s drinking a double Jack Daniels just to get in the car to go to the studio. And by studio we mean (EDIT). Oh, that’s about as far as I want to go in discussing the plot, from there on in, you’re on your own, you, Milos and all kinds of new horrors.
Is this the darkest movie ever made? There is certainly an argument for that. In defence of the film, because the time will come when someone will say “Why would you WATCH that?”, much of what you think you see, you don’t. Much of the horror takes place off screen, or you just hear it whilst the picture shows something else. Of course, this gives you no escape as your mind will continue to play tricks right the way through. Granted there are some scenes where the camera does not turn away however much you might wish it would. This is not a film that you will forget as soon as you turn off the TV, it lingers, so many questions, so much disturbing action, is it social commentary or gratuitous gore? I’m playing devil’s advocate there or course, but the movie has had so much trouble in its life that you cant really ignore it. It was supposed to be shown at London’s Frightfest, where films are often shown without BBFC approval, but due to the reputation that the film had already picked up, they demanded that the BBFC looked at it and when Frightfest discovered how much the censors wanted to take out of it, they decided just to drop it rather than show the lesser version. This might sound childish until you hear that in order for the BBFC to eventually give ‘A Serbian Film’ a certificate, it required over four MINUTES to be taken out. Normally horror suffers from seconds being deleted, this was an astounding amount of censorship. When the film was being put together, the film units where it was being prepared sent it to the police as they were worried that what they were handling was a genuine snuff movie and the filmmakers had to prove that the actors were safe and well and it was all make believe before they were allowed to finish it. You still cant watch it in many countries, Australia has banned it outright as have Spain, Norway, Brazil, Malaysia and Singapore. Those against horror point to these examples and say “See!” as if that justifies everywhere else following suit. I guess my reply to this would be I don’t want to see any movies starring Pierce Brosnan, can you ban them too? Yes, that sounds ridiculous, but so does removing four minutes of a movie in this day and age. It’s a thorny subject of course, always has been. Lest we forget that ‘The Exorcist’ is generally considered a classic and yet when James Ferman was in charge of the BBFC, he kept it in his draw and refused to give it a certificate in this country. You could travel to France and see it, in fact the first time I saw it was uncut on german television in English with subtitles, there it was a Saturday night movie of the week, not an unwatchable threat. One man’s classic is another man’s filth. It’s interesting to note when talking about ‘The Exorcist’ that Mark Kermode, one of this country’s most respected reviewers and supporter of the underground, absolutely hated ‘A Serbian Film’ and could see nothing to recommend in it. Again, it’s there on Youtube but I haven’t linked to it as there are spoilers and your mind going in should be ready for horror but unaware of the type of thing you are about to endure.
Great production values, great performances, a million different perspectives as to what the movie is saying and how it is reflecting the world back on itself. When J.G. Ballard said he wanted to rub the world’s face in its own vomit and then force it to look in the mirror, this is what would be staring back. Is that the ultimate recommendation or the ultimate damnation? You decide. It’s a free country. Aside from that four minutes…